Category Archives: politics

Sri Lanka Elections : The Muslim Vote

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First published here for Groundviews.

Images have been making the rounds on facebook, with various hues and shades, highlighting the fact that the sixth executive President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, won with the support of minority communities in Sri Lanka, whereas Mahinda Rajapakse, the last President obtained the votes of a majority of the majority. There is another image on facebook, that of a line drawing of a rabbit, requesting those who have time to go about colouring a map of Sri Lanka to induce racism, to colour the rabbit.

That is how much Sri Lankan society has been polarised over the last few weeks.

President Rajapakse was the clear front runner to win the elections in November 2014 when elections were called. The probability of him winning the elections kept thinning since then, when the General Secretary of his own party defected to the opposition to occupy the mantle that was the common opposition candidate. Come election eve, Mahinda Rajapaksa was still the favourite to win, albeit only just.

Never did I come across someone who whole heartedly committed to the fact that Mahinda would lose, even in the predominantly anti-regime circles that I move in. The most optimistic notion doing the rounds was that Maithripala had a very fair chance of winning, that optimism however was swiftly disqualified by that commonest of statements – should the unthinkable happen, the Rajapakses are so entrenched in their power politics, that they will never let go, and even if they did it would be after a bloodbath. Days before the elections, the prices of vegetables and other household commodities soared as a premonition soaked public stockpiled for the violence and curfew that was expected to eventuate.

The unthinkable happened, Rajapakse lost, he allegedly tried to use the military to create chaos, the army refused, and what ensued was probably the most peaceful elections and post election climate in my close to thirty year lifetime.

The Muslims and Tamils voted en masse for the opposition, particularly the Muslims. Not because they had faith in the opposition, but because the Rajapakses had to be deposed.

Under the Rajapakse’s, Sri Lanka descended from a precarious political balance to an utterly damaged one. Media freedom was stifled and Sri Lanka went from being a benign smiling island nation to a surveillance state, with state of the art technology mustered to wage the war now being used to protect the power balance of the regime. Journalists were killed in broad daylight; media institutions and other organs of a functioning democracy were stifled at best or bullied to submission. Ostentatious construction projects were instituted, some meaningful, some not so – but the incentive behind many such projects were the fruits of corruption enjoyed by those involved.

Political appointees were common place, and many at the highest echelons of power could trace some link to the Rajapakse family. Sri Lanka’s first female Chief Justice was impeached allegedly for blocking a project largely involving one of the Rajapakse brothers. The impeachment process itself was not moral and the very process reflected the tatters in which political decency lay, where it is rumoured that one of the loquacious ministers of the government addressed her derogatorily in Sinhala as ‘baby’.

As a nation many felt that we had lost our spirit under the Rajapakses. As a people, we were being groomed to dislike the other, in a land which abrasively and wrongly claimed to be that belonging to just one race. Racism was allowed to thrive; indeed bureaucratic apparatuses were struggling to survive without it. Ministers and ministerial offspring were running amok and thugs in robes went about desecrating the sanctity of the noble philosophy that is Buddhism.

Corruption was so rampant that it became such a deeply ingrained and embedded element of our psyche. Indeed when one lives in abnormality for long enough, that which was once considered abnormal slowly yet firmly goes through a subtle metamorphosis to become normal. Decadence becomes so gradual that it happens without grazing the sensitivities of our collective consciences, and eats away at our soul.

The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), largely unrepresentative of the average Sri Lankan Buddhist wrought carnage upon the carefully evolved and preserved Sinhala-Muslim relationship. To the credit of the Muslims however, they have been astute to identify the BBS as a terror group and not of a representative wing of the majority Sinhala community. The BBS was out in the open, in its aggression towards Muslims, a country where law and order is considered sacrosanct would have no dilemma in having many of the BBS charged and punished. Instead, they were harnessed and even prospered under the watch of the last government. Among the reasons for their invincibility in the sight of many was their perceivably close relationship with the former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse.

Hundreds of properties and close to dozens of mosques were damaged, causing immense physical and emotional trauma upon a beleaguered and innocent Muslim community. It was, and as of today, continues to be a symbol of the decadence of our society that hate speech so easily spewed from the electronic mouths of many educated Sinhala youth under the watch and connivance of the state.

However in all this, Muslims must not, should not and should never be tricked to indulge in turgidity that this was a victory brought forth by the Muslims and other non-Sinhala ethnic groups.

Rajapakse had to go, and the people rose against him, and that is all.

Muslims should move beyond the parochialism that has plagued politics in recent decades, it didn’t use to be this way; abnormality has once again come to be known as normal. It is understandable that circumstances pushed Muslim politicians down that path, but that time has now passed. Muslims should integrate- not necessarily with the Sinhalese or Tamils – but with all those who identify themselves as Sri Lankans, bar none.

I was amongst the tens, if not hundreds of thousands at the last rally by Maithripala Sirisena in Maradana of the Colombo Central electorate, and amongst the elated crowds at the Independence Square when the new President was sworn in. The former is a Muslim stronghold and the evergreen bastion of the opposition United National Party, the latter is a national treasure. Remarkable was the fact that in one instance, Sri Lankans rallied against the incumbent, and in another they rallied in support of the new incumbent, not as antagonistic warlords who had momentarily laid down their arms, but as a harmonious clutter of Sri Lankans of all shades, celebrating what they deserve.

Maithripala Sirisena’s Presidency, or indeed his new government should not be considered better than the last unless they actively prove to be so. They have made promising new steps, but they have miles to walk. This new government has to be held accountable for all the steps they take, commended for the good they do and taken to task for the wrongs they do. Indeed never again should a regime as dastardly and corrupt as the last be allowed to surface to soak the founding principles of Sri Lankan society, one that still teaches ‘values’ in her schools.

This is not a victory by the Muslims or Tamils neither did the Sinhalese win with the help of their other racial counterparts.

In the oldest democracy in Asia, her peoples got together to depose what they thought was a representation of everything that isn’t Sri Lankan, they did so to regain the Sri Lanka they know.

That is how it should be.

I am a Muslim, I voted for the winning candidate – it is against the grain of these sentiments to highlight that I voted in a Sinhalese, but I did and not just because there wasn’t a suitable Muslim candidate. Together I am from the political majority, a majority that should embrace the minority to form a cohesive Sri Lanka, not monotonous as a people, but one people nonetheless.

Image from here.

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Independence Referendum: The Morning After

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First published here.

A win for independence in Scotland would have led to drastic changes to parliament in the UK including the short-to-medium term irrelevance of Labour

A little over half of those who went to bed last Thursday in Scotland, wondering what Friday will hold, woke up to the news that the United Kingdom will remain as it has been for 307 years and that Scotland will not break away to form an independent state. The campaign has been marred by allegations of scaremongering, increased verbosity of the establishment, heated debates on fiscal matters and devolution.

Irrespective of the outcome, it must be concluded that the Scottish referendum was a great celebration of democracy with extremely high turn-outs for voting. Estimates suggest that more than 80 per cent of those eligible to vote turned up for voting, compared to only more than 50 per cent who voted in the Scottish elections of 1999 when powers were first devolved.

The decision to hold a Scottish referendum was made in October 2012, by allowing the Scottish parliament to hold a referendum that was legally valid to confer independence. The terms of the referendum were a matter of great debate, but as George Eaton identifies here, contrary to most observers, it was Alex Salmond in his political astuteness who outmanoeuvred David Cameron – who, according to many, is reflective of a political class that was extremely complacent about the aspirations of the Scottish peoples. There are at least three factors Eaton identifies that helped Salmond outplay Cameron.

Westminster retains the constitutional authority to determine when a referendum can be held, and even though the initial date was September 2013, this date was moved to September 2014 in return for Salmond deciding to allow a one question vote, thereby winning another year’s worth of vital campaigning time for the Yes side of the debate. The second move Salmond made was in determining the wording of the referendum question. By managing to stave off pressure from the recommendation of the electoral commission to have the question read “Do you agree that Scotland should become an independent country?” having it read instead as “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, Salmond found a much easier way of channelling nationalist energy towards an eventual yes vote. The other vital concession Salmond managed to garner was the right for 16-17 year olds to vote in the referendum, even though voters in this age group do not vote in UK or Scottish parliamentary elections. Young voters are more inclined to vote for independence, as this YouGov poll reveals.

The complacency of the Better Together campaign, headed by Alistair Darling, was evident from the very beginning with Westminster taking for granted that Scotland would vote to remain in the UK. This notion was not without basis, as the opinion polls consistently showed that those in favour of voting No outflanked those in favour of voting yes by a double-digit margin. Then came the disastrous second debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, where Salmond vociferously and passionately argued about the case for independence, managing to appeal to many of those who were dithering on which way to go. Even though the debate wasn’t the primary reason, it was probably the last straw on the camel’s back. The double-digit lead that the No campaign had held for so long eviscerated over a matter of weeks and panic hit the No camp when aYouGov poll on 6 September showed the Yes camp to be in the lead for the first time.

The panic that set in was probably good for the Yes camp and was just the bad news that was needed to galvanise the whole of Westminster together. All three leaders of the main parties went on a very strong door-to-door campaign, even to the extent of cancelling Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday. Further powers of devolution were promised to the Scottish parliament and last ditch attempts were made to make packages of political appeasement that would swing the momentum from the Yes, back to the No.

It is also worth mentioning here that there were many voters who, indeed, wanted to stay in the union and vote no to independence, but due to the deep involvement of the toxic establishment and their support for the No camp, many of these conscious No voters were deterred. Right-wing media organisations, the BBC, big corporations and banks all fought vehemently against independence and this galvanised many voters to look at this vote as a statement screaming of anti-establishmentarianism. It must be mentioned however, that Rupert Murdoch, that great icon of the establishment is an avid fan of Alex Salmond.

It is also important to note as Owen Jones does here, that the same establishment that put its weight behind the No campaign will, similarly, be taking part in the alleged scaremongering tactics against Ed Miliband and the Labour campaign come the General Election in 2015. Labour, which was complicit at worst and connived at best with these tactics, will have to know that some of their friends in the No campaign will be some of their worst enemies in a matter of a few months.

In all of this, one thing that is glaringly evident is the second coming of Gordon Brown. Brought up by a father who was a Church of Scotland pastor, Gordon Brown is also the author of Courage, a compilation of eight biographies of those who have shown resolve and courage during times of difficulty. Sadly for many on the left of the spectrum, Brown got lost in Tony Blair’s New Labour, and many wonder what would have become of Labour if Brown inherited John Smith’s leadership of the Labour party as he was touted to, instead of Tony Blair.

It is widely thought that this passionate speech by Gordon Brown, on the last day of campaigning tipped the undecideds (about 14 per cent at most times) in favour of voting no and that it was this momentum that helped carry the No camp along.

What would have happened if the Yes camp had won?

The No camp won, and all is well. But what may have happened if it went the other way? David Cameron had made it clear that he would not resign if Scotland decided to vote in favour of independence, and indeed he would not be constitutionally obliged to resign.

I am of the opinion that New Labour’s advent in 1997, which led to the negligence of the welfare of the working class and, therefore, the erosion of Scottish Labour – which gave rise to an otherwise emasculated Scottish National Party (SNP) in the Scottish parliamentary elections that followed – is more to blame. Those who wield the knife out to Cameron as the prime minister who potentially oversaw the end of a 307-year-old union should have a memory that stretches far beyond 2010 when he became prime minister.

If Scotland had voted in favour of independence, there would have been a Tory backbench revolt that may have culminated in Cameron resigning. This would mean that Theresa May or George Osborne would have most likely become Tory leader, unless William Hague would have been recalled as a caretaker leader to steady a wobbly Tory ship. What is less spoken of is that Scottish independence may have also ended Boris Johnson’s leadership ambitions, if not delay them. Of course, this uncertainty in the Tory camp would translate into voter discomfort and Labour would have solidified its current lead to land Ed Miliband in Downing Street.

However, if Scotland legislatively moved out of the United Kingdom in 2016, it would have nullified the mandate of Labour MPs representing Scottish constituencies. Going by the current electoral standings, Labour would lose more than 40 MPs in Scotland, whereas the Tories would lose their one MP (as the joke goes – there are more pandas in Edinburgh than there are Tory MPs in Scotland). Thus, with such a colossal haemorrhage of MPs to independence, Ed Miliband would no longer be the leader with the largest party, and parliament would have to be dissolved, and General Elections will have to be recalled. When this happens, the Tories will romp home to what most analysts believe will be a clear majority, coupled by the fact that Labour will be electorally and arithmetically much weaker without the legal recognition of Labour in Scotland. As such, Labour will be transformed into a mere ideological sister party and the Labour coffers will be much weaker than the Tory funding to refight in a general election. It must be noted that this current electoral status quo remains only due to the currently incumbent culture of hung parliaments.

The Tories would then have proceeded to change electoral boundaries to suit them and that would cast Labour into the wilderness until it found inroads back into the mainstream.

Thus, should Scotland have become independent, we may have been looking at an increasingly right-wing England in the medium to long term.

What happens now?

Scotland has however voted against independence, and the speculations made above will not come to fruition, yet. Therefore, political life in the union will go on as it has been for the last three centuries.

However, the three party leaders have to make sure they do not renege upon the promises made to give increased powers to the Scottish parliament. Tory MPs are already preparing to revolt if greater devolution packages are showered upon Scotland. In his speech on Friday, Alex Salmond referred to the fact that Scotland isn’t independent “yet”, leaving room to speculate that if Westminster breaks its promise for greater devolution in Scotland, the SNP may perhaps take the route Quebec took when there were successive referenda that plagued Canadian politics in the mid-to-late 1990s.

As a friend of mine specialising in constitutional law noted, “This may have been a defeat for secession but it was definitely a victory for self-determination,” and the Scots as a people should be proud of this.

Image from here.

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Islamic Intellectual Resurgence : Looking Westwards

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From my experiences in living in three different and distinct regions in the world, I have always maintained that an intellectual Islamic resurgence has the greatest chance of starting in the West. Dr Tariq Ramadan in his reasons for not attending the ISNA and RIS conferences very clearly outlines the following, which are as pertinent to the West as it is for democracies in other parts of the world like Sri Lanka, where Muslims live as a minority community.

“I have said it once and I will say it again: Western Muslims will in the future assume a critical role. Educated and living in free societies, they must acquire greater knowledge of their religion and become free, active and outspoken citizens, fully aware of their duties and dedicated to the defense of their rights. In the United States, just as in Canada and in Europe, they must defend everyone’s human dignity, and refuse to keep silent in the face of intimidation by the state. Drawing on their spirituality and their values, their commitment will be their finest contribution, the best possible example of the contribution of Muslim citizens to the future of the West. The leaders of the previous generation are too cautious, too fearful; they dare not speak freely.”

“I am also a member of a generation that is passing on. It is up to the new generation to produce leaders who have understood that in bending over backwards, in saying “Yes sir!” they sacrifice not only their dignity, but forget and betray their duty. I dream of a new feminine and masculine leadership, educated, free and bold, a leadership that does not confuse the concept of dialogue with the authorities with unacceptable compromise and intellectual surrender, a leadership that does not transform Sufism, the historical underpinning of so many liberation movements, into a school of silence and cowardly calculation. As I look around me, I see the first premises of a dream come true, alhamdulillah”

Image from here.

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Lankan Muslims in London and Political Myopia

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First Published for Groundviews and the Colombo Telegraph.

There was a protest that took place yesterday by a group of Sri Lankan Muslims in Britain outside the Sri Lankan High Commission in London mostly regarding the spate of anti Muslim activities that have been occurring in Sri Lanka. But in this instance what the group responsible for yesterday’s protest sought to achieve is unclear, what is pointedly obvious is the blatant incongruence between what they did and what they thought its influence would be. The very premise of having any such protest is not just questionable, but can create a cycle of many political unknowns. There are significant issues that the Muslim community in Sri Lanka currently faces, their plight is most depressing and worrying, as I have highlighted here. But knee jerk reactions to or exploitation of a genuine plight to gain isolated political mileage is not the prudent way to operate.

As any other Lankan Muslim Londoner, I am as familiar with the Sri Lankan Muslim Diaspora, the numerical minority and the politically weakest of the three Sri Lankan ethnic Diaspora groups in London. And it beggars belief as to what would have led to the said group deciding to protest outside the Sri Lankan High Commission in London. I argued here a few years back that there is a significant structural disconnect between some parts of the strategies of the British Tamil Diaspora and the genuine needs of the Sri Lankan Tamil people whose plight we must all sympathise with. If this trend isn’t stymied and nipped in the bud, there is a very fair chance that the Lankan Muslim Diaspora in Britain would suffer the same fate and alienation that sections of the Tamil Diaspora have suffered. This would not just result in loss of authority and negotiating power (which for the Muslims in London is currently hardly existent anyway) but would indeed cause damage to the Lankan Muslims in Sri Lanka, the very Muslims that they claim to represent.

Protest is certainly a beacon of democracy that needs to be put into good use, I am not doctrinally against the principle of protesting outside embassies, indeed I was amongst those who marched to the Israeli embassy in London off Kensington High Street on a cold spring morning in 2010 when the Marvi Marmara and the Gaza flotilla were attacked.

The role of the Diaspora is extremely important, the monetary and intellectual power they hold, not to mention the electoral influence they have upon their elected representatives in British electorates can be used to good effect. But the fundamental matter that has to be understood, which sections of the global Tamil Diaspora failed miserably in understanding, is that the whims, strategies and the dictates of the Diaspora must never supersede the needs and political intonations of the local peoples they claim to represent, in this instance the Sri Lankan Muslim community living in Sri Lanka, which to the overwhelming vast majority is still very much the parent community. If there was a coordinated effort by the Sri Lankan Muslims on the ground and the Lankan British Muslim Diaspora and the protest was a reconciled act by both parties, then that could have been lauded. But on this occasion, such is not the case and this was indeed repudiated very wisely by the National Shura Council, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka in this statement and thisvideo statement by NM Ameen.

In the case of the Tamils there were flagrant issues of racism and ethnic violence with the connivance of the then Sri Lankan Government that resulted in the deaths, humiliation and damages to property in the riots of 1983, not to mention the serious known and unknown figures of Tamil civilian casualties towards the end of the war in 2009. But Muslims in Sri Lanka have not faced such a situation and such a situation can be avoided only by political and social prudency. Of course it is without a shadow of doubt that the Bodu Bala Sena and Buddhist extremists in general running amok against Muslims and other minority groups, in their coordinated attacks, have powerful figures sympathetic to their actions, this is evident in how law enforcement authorities watch impotently as the monks behave in such brazen vulgarity, but unlike in 1983 where large swathes of Sinhalese got involved in the violence, the actions of the BBS are not widely appreciated by the Sinhalese community at large and it must be stated that the actions are indeed carried out by a group of rebel monks and not necessarily Sinhalese lay embittered by the Muslims they around them. It also needs to be mentioned that the reactions of the Sinhalese towards other minorities, particularly the Tamils was in the context of an ongoing ethnic conflict. Not that the former is excusable, but the actions of the BBS and others of similar ilk are executed when the country is not in a state of emergency, at least based on ground realities. Again, it must be stressed that this is not a condemnation of protest, nor am I a flag bearer for this government that has allowed lawlessness to reach such giddy heights, but it is the timing and astuteness of this exercise that has to be reflected upon.

Strategically it laughable to expect that this is going to make the Sri Lankan Government look towards the local Muslims with renewed respect and concern, indeed the danger is that the opposite of that could be true. What is also amusing is to look in bewilderment as to the extent of the power parts of the Sri Lankan British Muslim community perceives it wields. Furthermore, with due appreciation of the fact that Lankan Muslims settling in London took place in smaller numbers and very much after Tamils and Sinhalese established themselves there, the Lankan Muslim Diaspora in Britain is quite backward compared to the other two groups in many social standard indices. Not to in any way sound elitist, but a look at our educational standards, the percentage of us who are above the British average household income, and the percentage of us whose social movements aren’t influenced by the insularity of our own community in reference to the Sinhalese and Tamils are indices that should be taken seriously if an honest discussion and measure on political influence and power is to be gauged. It must be noted that, to borrow a computing phrase, this is a zoomed out view of the three communities, when you zoom in there are indeed Lankan British Muslim families and thereby pockets of social circles who can and should exert influence on the political centre in Colombo.

Politically, the problem with trying to fly so high too young is that you expose yourself to predators who can significantly curtail your growth and development. If the actions of the Diaspora results in further damage to the political standing of Muslims in Sri Lanka, not only should they shoulder the blame but as we Muslims say in private amongst ourselves, they are answerable to Allah if in case their motives weren’t purified.

It is not my place to question the integrity or sincerity of the intentions of those behind this exercise and I certainly will not, on the contrary I am sure they acted in the way they best saw fit. But as someone who relates to the British Lankan Muslim community as much as one who does to the Sri Lankan Muslim community in Sri Lanka, and with the conscious understanding that the social threats to Muslims in Sri Lankan far outweigh those of the former, the political maturity of this act has to be interrogated.

Rather, the Lankan British Muslim community should have built coalitions with their Sinhalese and Tamil counterparts, and acted towards a holistic national cause questioning the damages caused by lawlessness, the cancer that is corruption, nepotism, cronyism and political suppression of minorities in general. This may come across as political first principles, but for a Diaspora community only just establishing itself politically, these matters need to be borne in mind. Working with Sinhalese and Tamil Diaspora groups in London, I can say with a certain degree of authority that Muslim representation in the upper echelons of collective Lankan British Diaspora has room for improvement, of course this is from the interactions I have had and another may have a different tale. I am conscious that there are frictions in building coalitions and that this is easier said than done. But in the same way that the local Muslims will best further their political agenda when they work in tandem with the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, to bring to account probably what is the most corrupt and unpatriotic government in post Independence history, the Lankan British Muslims will best achieve even a scintilla of success only when they work together with the others. They risk being politically burned out far too early if they do not, and that will be to the detriment of the collective Muslim political cause as a whole, Lankan Muslim Diaspora groups have a lot of potential to power Muslims in Colombo and that potential has to be used with responsibility, or as elders in the Muslim community would say, consider it an amaanah.

The localised context has to be understood first before ramifications of protests are to be made in London. The connection between the parent community and the diaspora has to give birth to an understanding as to how this matter should have been approached. The actions of the Tamil Diaspora vis a vis local Tamils would prove to be a good case study, the mileage they gained, the sound calls they made and the errors they committed. Having already had a precedent of another Diaspora of an oppressed community and how they negotiated political upheavals makes it easier for the Muslim community in that they can avoid much of the trial and error that the Tamils inevitably had to engage in, and therefore mistakes once done by another community can be averted. There is a risk that actions of the Muslim Diaspora can adversely impact the local Muslims and that must absolutely be understood.

This is a significant error of judgement on the part of sections of the Lankan British Muslim community in London and I am both thankful and relieved by the political astuteness of the Sri Lankan Muslim civil society groups based in Sri Lanka who have swiftly distanced themselves from this sad manifestation of political myopia.

Image from here.

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Lankan Muslims and Their Image Problem

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This article was first published in the print version of the Ceylon today on 24 July 2013 (view online soon) and  is in response to an interview of Dr.Ameer Ali published on the Ceylon Today on 19 July 2013 titled ‘Muslims are self-alienating’.

The state of Muslims in Sri Lanka has been closely observed over the last few years. Indeed the plight of Sri Lankan Muslims has become somewhat dire; new radical Sinhalese groups like the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and the Sihala Ravaya (SR) have hijacked Buddhism and are both committing and advocating crimes against the Muslim community. It is in such a context, that Dr. Ameer Ali’s interview was published a few days ago.

When asked if he concurs with the widely asserted notion that a peaceful Muslim minority are under threat by elements representing a hegemonic Buddhist nationalism, Dr Ali opines that after more than a hundred years of ‘rationalism’, religion is once again in the ascendency. As such, Buddhism in Sri Lanka is seeing a revival.

There are multiple loopholes in this argument and if anything it is rather febrile in the face of the main structural issues at hand. While a global revival of religion has been noted, it is important to highlight that this has manifested in an increasing of religiosity amongst people who already profess a faith rather than a marked resurgence in the numerical ratio of people claiming to subscribe to a religion. Secularism too is on the rise, with atheism becoming more numerically prominent. Therefore, what is seen is not the reversal of a status quo where the numbers of atheists is diminishing to make way for the religious; rather it is the concentration of the strengths of already set religious and or other value systems.

Attributing the rise of the Bodu Bala Sena and the Sihala Ravaya to the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is insulting to good decent Buddhist Sri Lankans if it isn’t farcical. For example, the BBS has been acting in contravention of law and order, embracing violent means and initiating vile, organised hate campaigns against ethnic minorities and those who have stood up against their methods. If the good Doctor sees this as the birth pangs of a revivalist Buddhism in Sri Lanka, there will be many who would spring out of a kicked bush to question his sense of reason.

Further, Dr. Ali states that since the 1970’s, there has been a spread of ‘orthodox Islam’ in Sri Lanka, supposedly brought to our shores by Sri Lankan workers returning from the middle East. This argument which has been liberally thrown about by many commentators, is fast gaining traction.

Unlike the Russian Orthodox Church which is the institution of an independent Christian denomination of its own, ‘orthodox Islam’ is a Western linguistic construct which has no definition except where the West would like to use it as it sees fit. From a Western lexicon, the rigid conservatism of the Afghan Mujahideen in the 70’s for instance was a non-issue when the Soviets had to be fought; Margaret Thatcher even reportedly celebrated with some of them in Downing Street.  The applicability of the phrase ‘orthodox Islam’ to the case of Sri Lankan Muslims therefore is in serious dispute.

Moreover, Dr Ali exhibits a rather futile sense of nostalgia for the state of the Muslims in the 1970’s which he uses to denigrate Lankan Muslims of today. Those who were born after the seventies were born to a different Sri Lanka and share a different identity and seek no avenue to revert to a time unheard of to them.

If the inference is that Muslims today will do well to revert to customs of the 70’s, it igoes against the epithets of any form of liberal or social democracy to want to impose the culture of a bygone era to a current generation who are a product of an entirely different time with different needs and issues. Incidentally, there is an interesting correlation where the allegation that the Muslims of the 70’s were different stem from those who left Sri Lanka domicile elsewhere in the 70’s, and therefore scrutinise Sri Lankan Muslims after a gap of a generation. The culture of Muslims today is a response to what is and what happens around them and it would be a synthetic intervention to modify that. If it is sentimentalism or nostalgia that is needed, then of course the interviewee would be forgiven if he limited himself to his harmless persuasions.

But if these nostalgic affirmations have serious political undertones, they are rather analogous in theory with the right wing loons in the US Tea Party who struggle to accept the US for the racial diversity it boasts of today, but yearn for times of yore when an all-white US bureaucratic hegemony trampled down the black communities and native Americans with impunity.

Therefore, that the Muslims seen in Sri Lanka in the 70’s were different remains only to be an innocent fact.

It is a basic anthropological ideal that societies, communities, faiths and belief systems evolve in response to the inevitable changes occurring around them. All religious and ethnic communities in Sri Lanka have responded to the changes around them, culturally or ideologically. The Tamils of Sri Lanka who were subjected to ostracism by sections of the Sinhalese majority for the last thirty years, are naturally different today than they were decades ago. The simplistic argument augmented by this commentator that the Muslims of the 70’s were somehow better, needs to be laid to rest. Things change and communities change around them, The once white America now has a Black President, it was a Conservative (not liberal) Prime Minister that pushed through legislation legalising gay marriage in Britain

Further, the majority of the Muslims of the 1970’s were either mono-lingual Tamil speakers, with a limited elite who were both Tamil and English speaking. Contrast this with today where the average Muslim is bi-lingual with the class of Muslims who are tri-lingual  increasingly on the rise, thus making the Sri Lankan Muslims the least polarised and most diverse Sri Lankan community when it comes to languages. This is notwithstanding the fact that there are recognisable sections of the Sri Lankan Muslim populace who speak Malay, Arabic or Urdu in addition to the three main languages. The Muslim community therefore is linguistically the least insular of all communities

Since communal conflict in Sri Lanka has more precedent to be based on ethnicity (perhaps language related) than religion, that Dr. Ali doesn’t see the receptive position of current day Lankan Muslims vis-a-vis integration is deplorable if it isn’t laughable. Therefore, to cite ideological changes in a community over a period of thirty years, a natural development that is hard to measure or quantify and to simultaneously ignore and overlook other quantifiable socio-political development indices of the Lankan Muslim community is both biased and inaccurate.

The interviewee then goes on to making some facetious claims of how Muslims should be part of the Dalada Perahera. That they don’t take part isn’t a crime and Muslims give due credence to the event as being of national significance and its purity doesn’t have to be adulterated by Muslims taking part, unless if requested to do so, I am reluctant to believe that this was the puritarian orthodoxy that he mentioned of earlier.

Other aspects raised by Dr.Ali, include the supposed banes of Muslim schools being closed during Ramadan, thereby exercising a liberty he has to express himself at the cost of opening academically irrelevant cans of worms. I myself was educated at a Christian Missionary school in Colombo and therefore never had holidays during Ramadan, but Muslim schools being closed during Ramadan has never been an impediment to social integration.

Moreover, he highlights the fact that there are funds coming into the Muslim community from Saudi Arabia which in turn helps institutionalise a Saudi brand of ‘Intolerant Islam’. The record of the Saudi’s is nothing to be proud of, reports increasingly suggest that that oppressive regime of the Saudis with a host of other Arab states connived with the US to depose the first democratically elected President of Egypt. Therefore, the Saudi’s have little virtue to extol.

However, Sri Lanka is a democratic country underpinned by a legal system; it is not anyone’s concern what comes from where, as long as it doesn’t impinge local laws and regulations. His concerns of Saudi money coming in is akin to some Sinhala extremists crying foul that the Norwegians are funding Christian groups in Sri Lanka and importing a foreign brand of Christianity that seeks to proselytise the majority Buddhists. Of course he callously neglects to calibrate his argument by failing to recognise the dangerous development in relationships between the radical monks in Myanmar who are responsible for many violent deaths of the Rohingya and local radical monks.

The dominant image Dr. Ali seems to conjure of the Lankan Muslim community is of a conclave of black burka wearing women & bearded men donning flowing white robes, He blatantly fails to recognise the image of a non-violent resilient community, brutally uprooted from their domicile in the north by the LTTE exacerbated by the indifference of successive governments to its plight, a community hounded by a fringe of Tamil terrorists in the past and hounded by a fringe Buddhist extremists in the present, a community that has overcome discriminatory bureaucratic patterns to become highly entrepreneurial.

Very regrettably, When atrocities of the LTTE stole the image of an educated and upwardly mobile Tamil community, and when violent escapades of Buddhist extremism is distorting the pristine image of the Sinhalese, it is both whimsical and flippant of the Doctor to think that Sri Lankan Muslims are plagued by an image problem.

Image from here.

NOTE: Dr Ameer Ali’s callous remarks somewhat fall in line with an older post of mine titled ‘For Muslim Critics of the Lankan Muslim Community’

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Filed under 2013, Islam, politics, Sri Lanka

Coca Cola and Goodness ? Not Really.

Quite a few friends had tweeted about this video of Coca Cola seemingly aiming to unite the peoples of India and Pakistan, one person at a time, at least.

Personally I am extremely cynical of big money capitalism, of which Coca Cola is the most notable example. Numerous are the instances where Coca Cola has been found to be at the unethical end of the human spectrum. Where big money capitalism is rampant, rarely is there room for human virtues to take precedence in actions that otherwise are imperative, like the reasons in the Pakistan-India divide that Coca Cola now seeks to exploit.

Most of us take things at face value, seldom do we question things, and even more seldom when it is Coca Cola – probably the world’s best known soft drink. John Pilger, the world renowned documentary film maker and writer did a documentary on the soft drink giant, it’s powers and the economic stranglehold it has on poor third world economies. Like the scandals that have erupted of late of the unethical practices of large Multi National Corporations in the textile trade in Bangladesh, Coca Cola is not new to it’s experience in being one of the most unethical MNC’s in the world. Such is the power of Coca Cola that most Socialist or indeed Communist countries have managed to curb Capitalism in most cases, except in the case of Coca Cola.

That Capitalism at its core is a very unethical system that fundamentally operates on the basis of oppression in one form or the other to accrue profits is not contestable. Therefore, it is quite obvious with the most callous brevity that this seemingly ‘good’ project of Coca Cola should be seen not for what it looks like on the surface.

For mostly obvious reasons (at least for some of you), I remain extremely cynical, and with good reason that this supposedly good gesture of Coca Cola is underpinned by clandestine economic interests that far outweigh the human virtues it seemingly portrays to be abundant.

This is a quick end of work rant to release the suppression I have felt by being inundated through a whole plethora of tweets in support of this campaign, with time I will hopefully update this.

UPDATE: Response to Jack Point

Jack Point has written a response to the post above here. This is a very brief response.

I cited the case of Bangladesh, yes, but what I have cited is not about the building (Rana Plaza) that collapsed recently. Therefore Jack Point’s argument using Rana Plaza becomes that, another argument, and less of a response to my post.

Further, what I have written is a blog post and by my own admission is a rant, I will of course be more substantial should I be writing to a popular news site.

But the crux of my argument is this, frankly from the little that I have known of Jack Point over the years I would have expected this to have been understood, though I am culpable in that I should have been more diligent in my clarity. Anyway, I digress, my argument is this – it isn’t wrong to be cynical of a seemingly good gesture of anyone if there are serious questions that have to be asked of the credibility and past history of the doer. It is common knowledge that Coca Cola has been contaminated by very many unethical practices that have been highlighted on numerous occasions, John Pilger’s documentaries being one of them.  Indeed Coca Cola has had a relatively easy ride from the masses who rarely question its record because not many want to shout out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

About the crook that he asks of, it is common knowledge that when the neighbourhood crook who has been at the base of the most nefarious activities suddenly initiates a seemingly good neighbourhood project, the neighbourhood does wonder where this will all lead to.

And let’s look at this objectively. When something as big as Coca Cola does something, the impact is felt by hundreds of millions of people around the world. Therefore, whilst millions of people see something good in something done, it obscures the harm that millions of others suffer as a result. I have been very clear in what I have said; I am not saying that this is not a good initiative when you look at it in isolation. My argument has been that the expected economic return to Coca Cola surely would far outweigh the supposed human virtues at play. There is absolutely no other conceivable reason why an otherwise extremely profit driven organisation would endeavour to take this initiative.

Let’s be realistic here, numerous attempts have been made at the very highest echelons of politics, trade, economics and social initiatives to bridge the antagonistic divide between India and Pakistan and they have all failed, for various reasons. This initiative too is doomed to fail, I promise you now with whatever credibility I possess, that we are not going to be crediting Coke in the foreseeable future for the peoples of Pakistan and India uniting. What then would this little excursion by Coke be? Yes, a very quick money making venture, and make money they will. And all those who fall for this strategy would have been duped, and they will still not accept it.

Jester asks That we expect the multinational to uphold standards that both the local Government and local businesses are incapable of upholding?”. Well when institutions such as nation states that are so heavily regulated and bound by statutory conventions still fail at their base, Corporates that aren’t as regulated as nation states have every reason structurally to fail and cause damage. The difference is that governments can be held to account in one way or the other; rarely can a people’s revolution take on a corporation that spans across continents.

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Filed under 2013, politics

The Sinhalese & Schindler’s List

schindlerslist-book

Below is an excerpt from my post for The Platform, “Does the Silence of the Sinhalese Signal Complicity”.

“There is that scene from Schindler’s List which had a profound impact on me. I had forgotten about it, I never knew it existed, except that it has lain somewhere in the fibre of my brain, dormant, latent, waiting for the opportune moment for it to be of use. The state of Muslims in Sri Lanka is changing, it is perilous, getting graver with each rising of the sun, and suddenly this scene makes a lot of sense. It draws lessons from the attitudes of races and ethnicities and the chemistry between religious communities in Sri Lanka, a chemistry which is at threat of losing its equilibrium.

In the film Ralph Fiennes, playing the character of Amon Goeth, an SS officer, is in his bedroom with a girl. He rises to use the bathroom from where he sees an inmate in the concentration camp taking a break from the heavy painful labour he is being subjected to. As Goeth sees it, he is wasting time, being disobedient. So with the girl still teasing him in the background, he picks up the rifle and shoots him. He then surveys the working landscape from the balcony and walks the few feet back to the room where he and the girl continue to laugh and argue, as if they never had an interlude in which misery was wreaked on another.

For all the details in this scene, it is the image of the girl that recurs – she didn’t kill anyone, she was only an onlooker.

Except she wasn’t. There are no mere onlookers or observers under such circumstances. Inadvertently or not, you are a participant. You contribute to a crime, to someone else’s suffering by inaction, by a silence that spells out consent.

Were the Nazis, the Serbs, the Hutus or Tutsis, the monk-led groups in Myanmar or ironically the Israelis, who are largely descendants of those killed in concentration camps, able to go on the rampage with their killings because of Ralph’s character? No, it was because of people like the girl, the silent majority, who in their silence precipitated the suffering of others.”

Read the full post here.

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Filed under 2013, Film, politics, Sri Lanka